City Life

Bayelsa: Furore over N3bn agric loan

Bayelsa State has been awash with stories recently because of a N3 billion agricultural loan allegedly squandered by the prosperity government. John Idumange, a former general manager of Bayelsa State Radio Corporation, during the time of Henry Seriake Dickson, had accused the government of sharing the money among some senior politicians in the prosperity government. Of course, the present Governor of the state, Douye Diri, had assured Bayelsans that agriculture will be one of his major focus during his time as the governor of the state.

In the time past, series of agriculture loans and plans have gone down the drain like that like the Yenegwe aquaculture, the Peremabiri rice farm, the cassava processing plant at Ebedebiri, the Bayelsa Sea food company, among others.

The Bayelsa State government had also made promises of different agricultural and food sufficiency especially during the restoration government time but all went down the drain after announcing huge sums of money being invested in all these projects.

All these loans, if not handled properly, will sink the state into another type of recession as the prosperity government borrowed N2.9 billion naira immediately he came into office just to buy cars for political appointees. Reports by the Debt Management Office showed that as at the end of March 2019, Bayelsa State domestic debt stock was estimated at N147 billion, while its IGR in 2018 stood at N13 billion. According to DMO, it means that the state’s IGR only covers 10 per cent of the huge debt profile.

In total, Bayelsa owes N150 billion according to the DMO’s report. According to a post made by John Idumange on his Facebook page: “Sometime in 2019, the immediate past administration applied to the Central Bank of Nigeria for a N3 billion Agricultural loan. The Governor Douye Diri administration received the loan.

The first tranche of N1.5 billion was paid in March, 2020 to the Prosperity administration. The money was squandered. The last tranche of the loan N1.5 billion has been paid in February, 2021. A paltry sum of money is what the administration is using to clear some hectares of land.

I am sure the Commissioner of Agriculture was not aware. Plans have been concluded by the government to give N50, 000 each to selected farmers in Bayelsa State. It is too early for the Prosperity administration to defraud Bayelsans, then shift the blame to the immediate past administration. So far, we have documented 17 cases of fraud.

When we get 25 clear cases of fraud, EFCC and the law courts will handle the matter. “Bayelsans should not be duped in the interest of a tiny cabal of power holders. Let me warn that anyone who challenges me on the Agric loan issue will appear in Court in 14 days. All documents of payment of the Agric loan are at my disposal.

This is a warning shot. Be warned! JOHN IDUMANGE.” As a follow up to the first post he made, he wrote again: “The N3billion is a loan that will be paid back by the Bayelsa State Government; yet it was squandered. The genuine farmers are optimistic that money will come their way to do farm work but you can see how Bayelsans are being treated.

“For those who know, I am a private investigator and I have taken the liberty to form an alliance with the new EFCC Chairman. “In Bayelsa, under the prosperity administration, we have recorded about 17 cases of financial malfeasance; yet, they desecrate the holy altar of God. Bayelsans are suffering and God is watching. The fraudulent loan has revealed one thing: that the Douye Diri administration does not have a media war-chest. I did not see one coherent comment that addressed the issue.

When I went through the comments, some people wrote in response to this rather innocuous revelation, I came close to weeping. One at a time, we shall reveal those cases of fraud and file them at the EFCC. The only reason we will stop is if government begins to do the right thing and stop deceiving the people. We shall only file matters that are of the overriding interest of Bayelsans.

Let’s watch out for the second fraud.” But in a swift reaction, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Bayelsa State, David Alagoa, dismissed claims made by Idumange about the said loan being diverted by the Bayelsa State Government, stating that the loan was being directly supervised and disbursed by CBN through a commercial bank in partnership and not by the Bayelsa State Government. He confirmed that all the benefitting farmers have been allocated lands and have received the sum of N50,000.00 for land preparation for planting.

He explained: “Some of the farmers, including fish farmers have received inputs through the system for their ponds. “Seven thousand bags of fertilizers, cassava stems and other inputs are in various communities from the second tranche of the loan. “This loan disbursement is through the banks to individual accounts of the farmers.

CBN took this approach probably because of previous experiences across the country. The disbursement here in Bayelsa is so transparent. Idumange, does not have any information about the loan. He should have asked questions. He can simply go to the Yenagoa branch of the CBN if he needs information and not to spread fake news.” Also speaking in a radio phone in programme, the commissioner said that the first tranche of N1.5 billion facility, which was received in March 2020 for infrastructure has been deployed to upgrade the existing cassava processing plant and set up two rice mills.

“I therefore challenge Idumange to prove that money was shared by government officials because no such thing happened and the projects for which the funds were meant are there for inspection. “It is also false that N50,000 was disbursed to few beneficiaries.

We have 3,500 beneficiaries, who qualified even though we had planned for up to 6,000 farmers but due to financial inclusion issues. Three thousand, five hundred beneficiaries multiplied by N50,000 is N175,000,000. “Many of the farmers who do not have functional bank accounts with Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) were screened out.

So the 3,500 beneficiaries received N50,000 for land ploughing and preparation. “The programme is structured in such a way that funds are remitted at various stages in the farming process. Currently, we are distributing inputs for rice and cassava farmers whitefish inputs would be distributed later this month.

“Our policy on Agriculture is to promote farming by residents to achieve food security, while the government assists them by mechanising the process and the tractors acquired are already in our custody ready for use.” But a farmer, who was once an official of all farmers association in the state, told New Telegraph that; “The simple truth is that it is CBN fund. They called it AADS (agricultural accelerated development scheme). It was even Dickson that actually made move to collect that fund but at the end of day, because of politics attached to that money, they didn’t release the money to any government that was having six months to expiration.

“The money was not released to Dickson and when Diri was preparing to take over, he told the CBN to give to the incoming government, so that they will use it to start their agric programmes. “He now used that money as first of the monies for court cases. You know he was having court cases upon court cases. And they were short of funds and they applied for that money and then money was released.

“I give you one year from the day that they started releasing that money, call me and you will see that there will be no result attached to it. Even me in person, I didn’t benefit. I can tell you that majority of our members real practicing farmers didn’t benefit and you know in Bayelsa, if you decide to say something, they will attach it to politics.

“For you to challenge government activities, this side of politics is one way but the simple truth is that that scheme will not add any development to the state because it is a political thing.” Also, Emmanuel Egbo, Chairman of Nigerian Cassava Growers’ Association, Bayelsa State chapter, said: “Any loan we have gotten is from federal level. The recent one is this anchor borrower’s programme by Central Bank of Nigeria.

We have not gotten any loan from the state. “My association is not even aware of any loanbutitisjustof recentthatwehearditover the radio, if not we were not aware. We have never gotten any loan from this state. Like this Diriboost, thatone, theydidn’talsoincludemy members because they said we are already in anchor borrowers.

This one is state affair.” Tams Singabele, Chairman, Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria, Bayelsa State chapter, said:” None of my members got the loan. I don’t know why they didn’t give to us.” Alsoinapressreleasebythegovernor’sChief PressSecretary, DanielAlabrah, thebranchcontrollerof CBN, FrancisEne-Asuquo, statedthat N600millionhadbeendisburseddirectlytopoultry farmers in the state, which made it possible for them to now supply eggs to neighbouring states in commercial quantity.

He said the government also keyed into the bank’s agric programme in which over N2.2 billion has been disbursed to 2,000 Bayelsans. Also the CBN’s Head of Development Finance, Stanley Oruyeigha, dismissed the claim as mere speculation and outright falsehood. Oruyeigha confirmed that N1.5 billion of the amount was disbursed in the first phase for infrastructure development, which includes completion of the cassava processing factory at Ebedebiri while in the second phase, the sum of N1.438 billion has been disbursed directly to 3,500 farmers as well as for the purchase of various agricultural inputs and that N61, 699,211.80 was intact. He said: “There are no issues with the N3billion agric loan to Bayelsa farmers.

The first tranche of N1.5billion was meant for infrastructure and that includes land clearing. No contract of N40 million was paid to anyone. Everything about the fund is safe. Our partner bank is Access Bank. “I want to emphasise that no money is missing nor was shared. The Accelerated Agriculture Development Scheme is already a success in the state and it is on course.

The land clearing is going on well. CBN is satisfied with the progress so far in Ayamasa, Angalabiri, Korokorosei, Sampou, Agbere, Amassoma and other communities. The governor has never interfered with nor manipulated the scheme since it started. Of course, Governor Douye Diri exonerating himself from the whole saga, explained that the agric loan was already being processed before his administration came on board and that he would not be deterred by those trying to cause a rift between him and his predecessor.

He said that he cannot be blackmailed into appointing those promoting smear campaigns against his government and warned those he called detractors and professional petition writers to desist forthwith. “We are not deterred by armchair blackmailers and critics. We are focused and we want to bring prosperity to our people.

One of the ways to do that is to continue the partnership with CBN in developing our agricultural potential. “This agric loan was in the offing before we came on board and we followed it up because government is a continuum. I give credit to the former governor and the government that started this agric loan process. Assuming we did nothing about it, that would have been the end of this money they are crying about. “I was informed that our state has missed out on several other similar schemes. So, to those blackmailers, I would do more of this for the benefit of our people and our state.” He said. As at the time of filling in this report, John Idumange is said to have been arrested and was under custody.

 

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